In the Winter 1996 issue of the Presidential Studies Quarterly, Russell Train, the distinguished environmentalist and Chairman Emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund, wrote a long and thoughtful summary of “The Environmental Record of the Nixon Administration.”
In 1968, Mr. Train, an attorney with a long record of public service and environmental pioneering, was asked by President-Elect Nixon to serve as Chairman of a Task Force on the Environment.  During the early years of the Nixon administration, Mr. Train was Undersecretary of the Interior (1969-70) and Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (1970-73).

In September 1973, RN appointed him second administrator of the new Environmental Protection Agency (replacing William Ruckelshaus).  He served in that capacity under RN and Gerald Ford until January 1977, when he joined the World Wildlife Fund — first as President of WWF-US and then as the organization’s Chairman, until 1994.

Among his many worldwide honors are the US Medal of Freedom for his work in the field of conservation (1991) and the Heinz Awards Chairman’s Medal (2006).

Mr. Train opened his article with a general survey:

In his State of the Union Address of January 22, 1970, President Nixon declared: “The great question of the seventies is, shall we surrender to our surroundings, or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, our land and our water? …. Clean air, clean water, open spaces — these should once again be the birthright of every American. If we act now they can be.” Expansive rhetoric to be sure, but the rhetoric was matched by a remarkable record of achievement.

Environmental protection represented without doubt in my mind the single most significant area of domestic policy accomplishment of the Nixon administration. The extraordinary number of legislative, administrative, and institutional initiatives dealing with environmental matters far exceed those in any other area of domestic policy. Moreover, the initiatives in this one field were remarkable not only for their sheer quantity but also for their scope and innovativeness.

The Nixon environmental program dealt with both domestic and international policy, institutional reform, pollution control, tax policy, wildlife protection, land use policy, parks and open space (particularly urban open space), historic preservation, and many other facets of the environmental equation. It was truly a comprehensive effort that stretched from 1969 through 1973, probably peaking in 1972, and later giving way to energy concerns that arose from the several Arab oil embargoes. In large part, the results of the Nixon initiatives remain in place today and form the foundation for the country’s ongoing environmental programs.

While environmental initiatives by President Nixon on the international front tended to be obscured by other more dramatic foreign policy accomplishments, during his administration the United States provided the principal leadership for both bilateral and multilateral international efforts in the field of environmental cooperation.

He concluded by noting that:

Whatever the president’s personal predilections in the area, the Nixon administration not only recognized and responded to the ground swell of public concern over the environment, but it was out front on the issue, the essence of political leadership. Indeed, in some aspects of its environmental initiatives, such as land use policy, the administration was well ahead of its time. In the international arena, the United States under the Nixon administration cajoled and prodded the nations of the world to cooperate in addressing critical environmental It has been a hard act to follow.

The entire article may be obtained here.